WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- People taking the widely
prescribed sedatives known as benzodiazepines may be putting
themselves at greater risk for developing pneumonia, British
Moreover, they may also face an increased risk of dying from the
disease, the investigators added. Benzodiazepines such as Halcyon,
Librium, Valium and Xanax are commonly prescribed for anxiety,
epilepsy, muscle spasm and insomnia.
"Our study calls into question the safety of benzodiazepine drugs in the context of infection," said study author Dr. Robert Sanders, a senior clinical research associate at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.
"While further study is required, this initial analysis suggests that benzodiazepine exposure may increase the risk of developing pneumonia or dying from pneumonia," he said.
Sanders hopes this study prompts more research, including
randomized, controlled trials and cohort studies. A randomized,
controlled study is one in which people are randomly assigned to
different groups: one group receives the treatment and the other
does not receive the treatment (the "control" group).
The report was published online Dec. 5 in the journal
For the study, Sanders' team analyzed the medical records of
patients whose data was included in the Health Improvement Network
Specifically, they looked at almost 5,000 patients diagnosed
with pneumonia between 2001 and 2002. The researchers compared
those patients with more than 29,500 patients who didn't have
Patients with pneumonia typically had suffered pneumonia before,
along with other serious illnesses such as heart attack, depression
and psychosis. In addition, they were also more likely to smoke,
the study authors noted.
Sanders' team compared the use of benzodiazepines in both
groups. They also looked at the use of zopiclone (Imovane), which
although not a benzodiazepine acts like one.
The findings indicated that benzodiazepines were associated with
a 54 percent increased risk of developing pneumonia. This was also
true for zopiclone, the researchers added.
Specifically, diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and
temazepam (Restoril) were associated with an increased risk of
pneumonia, according to the report.
The risk was not associated with the benzodiazepine
chlordiazepoxide (Librium), the authors noted.
Further analysis found that the risk of dying within a month
after being diagnosed with pneumonia was 22 percent higher among
people taking benzodiazepines. The risk of dying was 32 percent
higher within three years after diagnosis, the researchers
These risks of dying were linked to diazepam, chlordiazepoxide,
lorazepam and temazepam, they noted.
About 2 percent of people in the United Kingdom and the United
States have used benzodiazepines for a year or more; among the
elderly, however, one in 10 use these drugs, the study authors
Benzodiazepines have also been linked to an increased risk of
infections and death from blood poisoning in critically ill
patients, according to background information in the study.
Although these results do not prove a cause-and-effect link
between these drugs and an increased risk of pneumonia or death
from pneumonia, they should be studied further, the researchers
One expert offered a possible explanation for how these drugs
may raise the risk of pneumonia.
"I am not surprised by the finding at all," said Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Benzodiazepines are sedative/hypnotics."
People take them as tranquilizers during the day or to sleep at
night, Horovitz said. "They are often taken with alcohol, even
though patients know not to. They depress the respiratory system
and they are cough suppressants," he explained.
If the cough reflex is suppressed, there is going to be a high
rate of pneumonia in the population in the study, Horovitz
Horovitz advises not using these drug as sleep aids. "You can
use something that isn't a benzodiazepine, like Ambien or Lunesta,
or melatonin if you are trying to be natural about it," he said.
"Benzos are a band-aid on anxiety or a panic attack, they are not
For more on benzodiazepines, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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